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Cornell University Message Framework

A Unified Communication Plan for 2010-2015

Annual Themes

  • 2010: Student Experience

    Critical Issues

    • • Access and Affordability
    • • Academics and Research
    • • Student Life
    • • Health and Well–Being

    Positioning Taglines

    • • Cornell's students work hard, get ahead, and give back
    • • The best research university for undergraduate education
    • • Learning anchored in research
    • • Living–learning community
    • • A caring community


    Examples from the Digital Well

    Key Facts and Concepts

    • • Our best scholars teach freshmen
    • • Needs–blind admissions
    • • Freedom with responsibility
    • • Curiosity and passion
    • • A diverse community of people and ideas
    • • Broad perspectives
    • • Boundless exploration and discovery
    • • Cultivating scholars and citizens
    • • Advancing a caring community
    • • Hands–on learning
    • • Academic breadth and depth
    • • Multidisciplinary and collaborative scholarship and research
    • • Synthesis of ideas
    • • Education that blends theory with practice
    • • Initiative
    • • An embrace of public engagement
    • • Life–changing experiences
    • • Land–grant mission
    • • Catalysts for change
    • • Real–world solutions
    • • Ivy League
  • 2011: Faculty Recruitment

    Cornell's culture of intellectual freedom and collaboration across disciplines stimulates a sense of larger purpose for researching, teaching, and serving, throughout New York and around the world.

    Critical Issues

    Faculty retention and renewal
    Cross–discipline collaboration
    Increased diversity
    Intellectual engagement
    Support for research, scholarship, and creativity
    High academic standards

    2011 Positioning Taglines

    • • A tradition of world-class excellence; a legacy of global engagement.
    • • Innovative. Imaginative. Interdisciplinary. International.
    • • Collaborative. Creative. Community. Cornell.
    • • Cornell: Where tradition meets tomorrow


    Examples from the Digital Well

    2011 Key Concepts

    • • Faculty has great colleagues within their fields who have similar research interests.
    • • Faculty has the opportunity to do research with real-world impact.
    • • Faculty has the opportunity to teach some of the best students.
    • • Faculty has access to some of the world's most respected scientists.
    • • Faculty has the ability to collaborate with people dedicated to serving the public good and fulfilling Cornell's land grant mission.
    • • Interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged and practiced.
    • • Faculty members are integral to the many unique and unusual university programs.
    • • Faculty has access to the infrastructure and support systems that are necessary to advance their research.
    • • Faculty accomplishes great things that have a lasting and positive impact on the world.
    • • Spirit of exploration.
    • • Research with a creative edge.
    • • Faculty conducts research that is relevant and of high quality, but usually with an element of "counterculture" to the conventional wisdom/approaches used in the discipline.
    • • Open, supportive, and uniquely interdisciplinary
    • • Where tradition meets tomorrow
    • • Faculty has freedom with responsibility
    • • Faculty members are part of a diverse community of people and ideas
    • • Curiosity and passion
    • • Brimming with innovation
    • • Broad perspectives
    • • Boundless exploration and discovery
    • • Catalysts for change
    • • Real-world solutions
    • • Ivy League
    • • A place where cultures meet, share, and learn
    • • Unfettered partnerships
    • • An atmosphere where anything is possible
  • 2012: Places and Spaces

    Through places and spaces we celebrate Cornell's community and campuses – virtual and concrete. From the remarkable buildings that respect tradition and inspire innovation, to the stunning natural landscapes both open and intimate, to the sophisticated networks connecting Cornellians and colleagues around the globe. Cornell's sense of larger purpose is deeply rooted in its dramatic natural beauty and evolving built environment.

    Related Brand Elements

    The following key elements from the brand book most closely relate to this year's theme:

    • • Direct impact, local and global
    • • Commitment to inclusivity
    • • Special place
    • • Vibrant community

    Supporting Language

    • • sense of place
    • • high on the hill with our feet on the ground
    • • communities devoted to discovery
    • • glorious to view
    • • without boundaries
    • • rich with tradition
    • • living, learning laboratory
    • • sustainable by design or sustainable living and learning



    Examples from the Digital Well

  • 2013: Land Grant

    Cornell's strategy of engagement is to guide the future of Cornell's historic land grant mission.

    As New York State's land-grant institution, Cornell University is distinguished by its deep commitment to developing knowledge that benefits communities in the state and around world. This commitment is rooted in its land-grant mission and the proposition that a land-grant university should be "expansive, endlessly adaptable and always relevant to the needs of society." In the 150 years since the Morrill Act was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 creating the land-grant system of universities, Cornell University has welcomed diverse students and scholars to create and extend knowledge and innovation to communities from central New York to central Asia and beyond.

    Guiding Quotes

    "Cornell is the land-grant university for New York State. ... We are in all 57 upstate counties and in all five boroughs of the city. This is the 150th anniversary of that [Morrill] Act in Congress in 1862. I bore you with all of that because this [CornellNYC Tech] was a natural for us. This was a perfect match to our DNA. We are here to serve the people of New York and a chance to do that in New York City, where we already have a pretty big presence, was just irresistible." Cornell University President David J. Skorton, Charlie Rose (July 16, 2012).

    "As the land-grant university of New York State, Cornell has a mission of public engagement -- a mission to use the wide variety of skills and knowledge within the university to serve the needs of people around New York State and beyond." Cornell University Senior Vice Provost Ron Seeber remarking on the land-grant mission at the Cornell Prison Education Program graduation ceremony June 5, 2012. Susan Kelley, "With hard work, prisoners graduate at historic ceremony," Cornell Chronicle (June 8, 2012).

    Related Brand Elements

    The following key elements from the brand book most closely relate to this year's theme:

    • • Intellectual rigor, theoretical and applied
    • • Direct impact, local and global
    • • Commitment to inclusivity

    Supporting Language and Concepts

    • • Cornell is reigniting the American Dream through its research, innovations, and inclusive participation.
    • • Cornell students, faculty, and staff engage in work to improve the lives of people within New York State and across the planet while that same work shapes their own scholarship, teaching, and commitment to understanding humanity.
    • • As our land-grant university and for over 140 years, Cornell has attracted faculty, staff, and students who want to use their knowledge to improve people's lives in New York State.
    • • Cornellians "...create and disseminate knowledge with a public purpose."
    • • Knowledge with a public purpose.
    • • There is but one Cornell, and we are local everywhere.
    • • Cornell is "the land-grant university to the world."
    • • Cornell is a caring community that cares about building communities.
    • • Cornell: expanding the world's collective knowledge.
    • • Interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged, practiced, and facilitates research with real-world, global impact.
    • • Cornellians are a diverse community of people and ideas who are dedicated to serving the public good and fulfilling Cornell's land-grant mission.
    • • Public engagement ... expresses the university's commitment to search for knowledge-based solutions to societal and world problems. Public engagement is an interpretation of the university's outreach mission that emphasizes being proactive (actively engaged) and having a public impact. It implies a broadening of the historic land grant mission of the university.(Cornell University Strategic Plan)
  • 2014: Thought Leaders

    Cornell University cultivates progressive, influential innovators who, through individual ingenuity and inspired teamwork, have profound, positive impacts in New York State and around the world.

    "Thinking otherwise" is a Cornell tradition and a consequence of a Cornell education. Our founders challenged contemporary ideas about the purpose and nature of higher education and in doing so created the modern American university, the model to which the rest of the world aspires. We continue to produce a community of leaders who are inspired and motivated by Cornell's land grant mission, where old and new ideas can be challenged in service of producing and disseminating knowledge with a public purpose that improves the quality of life and changes the world for the better.

    Related Brand Elements

    The following key elements from the brand book most closely relate to this year's theme:

    • • Outstanding, accessible faculty
    • • Intellectual rigor, theoretical and applied
    • • Direct impact, local and global
    • • Vibrant community

    Guiding Quotes

    The following expressions offer examples of how Cornell cultivates thought leadership.

    "Cornell can be a different experience for anyone. The motto about any person and any study appears to be true –it's hard to think of something that's not going on here. It is fantastically energizing." -Steven Stucky, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

    "We've been given the freedom to iterate, making changes on a short time frame. And we have Cornell behind us, so we know it will be a high quality program. That's very liberating." -Rajit Manohar, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Cornell Tech

    "There is a lot of Cornell history in the space program. Tommy Gold and Apollo, Carl Sagan, Joe Veverka and Viking, the Voyager missions...In my junior year I took a class with Joe Veverka. I came out of that class knowing exactly what I wanted to do." -Steven Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Rover project

    "Questions about inequality and the future of capitalism are right at the forefront of everyone's mind, and this is a great place to be to contribute to the national conversation." -Louis Hyman, professor, Industrial and Labor Relations

    Supporting Language and Concepts

    • • Mastery of their content areas.
    • • Recognize opportunities, set a clear course, and motivate others to follow.
    • • Keep up with new developments in their fields and make contributions that stand the test of time.
    • • Recognized as "go-to" authorities by colleagues, students, and practitioners.
    • • Believe in changing the world.
    • • Use their expertise and talent to improve life around the globe.
    • • Meaningful impact.
    • • A challenge to address the big issues and solve the major questions.
    • • Researchers and scholars, driven to teach and learn, to satisfy curiosity and push the frontiers of discovery.
    • • Know that the status quo is rarely a catalyst for change; think about conventional wisdom in unconventional ways; and convey those habits of thought to their students, who carry them forward as alumni.
    • • Students who learn how to think on their own when the answers aren't there.
    • • Alumni who are gold-standard leaders in their industries and professions.
    • • "Radical collaboration" among those who excel in their fields, producing a distinctive combination of depth, breadth, reach, and boundary-spanning connectivity among disciplines, locations and institutions.
    • • Students who think independently in and outside the classroom, across intellectual, personal, and social development, enabling those who are naturally creative and visionary in their thinking to emerge and grow.
  • 2015: Sesquicentennial

    Brand Promise:

    Cornell University changes the world.

    Power Positions:

    Intellectual powerhouse

    Cornell's faculty and students are some of the most brilliant and engaging people you'll ever meet.


    Cornell has been a global university since day one. Its community of scholars is defined by remarkable intellectual and cultural diversity.

    Teaching philosophy at Cornell emphasizes self-discovery and a foundation in the liberal arts, which develop higher–order skills and critical thinking abilities. You see shared respect for different experiences and interests ‐ this multicultural and multidisciplinary literacy encourages discourse and unpredicted lines of thinking.


    Cornellians are cross-disciplinary by design. The sophisticated and collaborative academic culture among Cornell's faculty and students guarantees unique partnerships – on campus, across the state and nation, around the world – and results in uncompromising quality and unlimited potential.

    A focus on rigorous intellectual pursuit, openness to new ideas, and a grounding in ethics translates into success in today's global society.

    relevant to audience:

    Cornellians are contemporary thought leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

    At Cornell, you learn from people who think like you do – and people who don't. They are partners who help bring out the best in you.

    For the greater good

    For 150 years, Cornellians have taken on the world's issues as their direct challenges. And the results improve the ways we live.


    The only land-grant institution in the Ivy League, Cornell was founded on a commitment to develop and apply knowledge to find new solutions for the complex problems of contemporary life. This is every Cornellian's responsibility – it's in our DNA.

    At Cornell, you see this conviction put into action every day, in ways large and small.


    Cornellians help shape the future – in medicine, health and nutrition, life sciences, technology, arts, psychology, law, family and society, economics, management, policy, sustainability, engineering, architecture, urban planning, government, labor relations, history, and more.

    At Cornell, you see all that can be accomplished through active stewardship.

    relevant to audience:

    Cornellians are driven by a desire to help, to solve, to transform the world.

    At Cornell, you see the results of numerous, committed partnerships – better quality of life for you, your family, your community, our global society.

Core University Messages

  • Mission and Vision

    Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land grant university for New York State. Cornell's mission is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge; produce creative work; and promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. Cornell also aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of our students, the people of New York, and others around the world.



    Cornell aspires to be the exemplary comprehensive research university for the 21st century on the basis of our distinctive status as a private university with a formal public mission. Faculty, staff, and students will thrive at Cornell because of its unparalleled combination of quality and breadth; its high standards; its open, collaborative, and innovative culture; the opportunities provided by beautiful, vibrant rural and urban campuses; and programs that extend throughout the state of New York and across the globe.

    Cornell University
  • Key Brand Elements

    Outstanding, accessible faculty

    Fully engaged in the process of discovery, Cornell's faculty does pioneering research that influences numerous areas of knowledge. In an unusually collaborative culture, faculty members often work in multidisciplinary teams across departments, colleges and schools. Accessible and dedicated teachers, they provide insight and inspiration that change students' lives.

    Unmatched breadth and depth

    Cornell has created a culture of broad and deep inquiry within its 14 colleges and schools – eleven in Ithaca (seven undergraduate and four graduate and professional), two in New York City, and one in Doha. In this rich academic environment, students can do in–depth study within their major field and have access to an extraordinary range of courses and experiences.

    Intellectual rigor, theoretical and applied

    A Cornell education is challenging and intense. Students push themselves as well as the boundaries of their fields of study. They get exposure to new technologies and ideas, within a dynamic mix of theoretical and applied studies, so they are able to envision–and apply–new solutions to complex problems.

    Direct impact, local and global

    Cornell's faculty and students view the world's major issues as their own challenges. Every day, through Cornell's academic and service programs, they drive change by developing new sustainable energy, agriculture and materials research; advancing animal and human health and well–being; preventing disease; leading positive economic development; finding solutions for intractable social problems like poverty and hunger; and strengthening communities through education and outreach. Their work improves the lives of people within New York State and across the planet.

    Commitment to inclusivity

    Since its beginnings in 1865, Cornell's vision of higher education has been uniquely practical and egalitarian. All forms of knowledge are explored. All people are welcome, regardless of their background or circumstance. In fact, Cornell was one of the first institutions to admit female students and people of color. This spirit of inclusivity continues to inform all that we do as we move into the future.

    Special place

    Cornell has all the facilities one would expect in an Ivy League university: historic and modern buildings, new and expertly renovated facilities for contemporary research, all developed with attention to academic collaboration and environmental responsibility. What's unexpected is the feeling of the place. Part of it is the dramatic setting: high on a hill above Cayuga Lake, amid picturesque gorges and gardens. The other part is the traditions and history. For those who have been here, this all creates a special place in our lives for Cornell.

    Vibrant community

    At Cornell, we live and work close together, often within walking distance, in a small city marked by cultural and intellectual diversity. This environment promotes discourse and respects differences of opinion, creating a sense of interconnectedness. Attracting the best and the brightest, it is a highly valued, caring community where students, faculty and staff form bonds that last a lifetime.

    View Brand Book
  • Campaign Messaging

    Who We Are?

    Cornell is foremost a community of scholars, known for intellectual rigor and engaged in deep and broad research, teaching tomorrow's thought leaders to learn to think otherwise, care for others, and create and disseminate knowledge with a public purpose. Cornell is the original opportunity university and New York's land-grant institution to the world. Cornell is high on a hill with its feet on the ground!

    The Next Four Years

    Our mission is to galvanize the enthusiasm for Cornell and build the support for the university's priorities spelled out in the strategic plan:

    • • Recruit the best faculty of the future
    • • Enhance access for the most deserving and diverse students
    • • Bolster public engagement anchored in Cornell's academic strengths
    • • Strengthen our people, programs, and facilities to support and promote academic excellence

    Now is the time!

    Cornell and Beyond 2015

    • • Cornell will set the global standard for excellence in discovery, learning, and engagement.
    • • Cornell will be one of the world's ten most distinguished universities and accessible to all deserving students.
    • • Cornell will leverage the breadth and depth of its expertise as well as Cornellians' propensity for multidisciplinary approaches, to effect substantive solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.
    • • As it has at key junctures in its history, Cornell will pursue transformative projects such as the NYC Tech Campus.

    Our Foundation for Success

    • • Four years out, the growing enthusiasm of Cornellians already seeking to celebrate Cornell's historic 150th anniversary.
    • • The extraordinary support of alumni and friends who, during a daunting period, donated a record-breaking $3.3 billion in gifts.
    • • And, a clear plan and great leadership, starting with you.
  • Enduring Statements

    Cornell University

    • ... any person ... any study.
    • Knowledge with a public purpose.
    • Cornell is the first truly American university.
    • Cornell's students work hard, get ahead, and give back.
    • At Cornell, students make friends for life.
    • Cornell is the original opportunity university.
    • Cornell aspires to be the most democratic Ivy.
    • Within reach, pushing boundaries.
    • There is but one Cornell, and we are local everywhere.
    • The land–grant university to the world.
    • Cornell is a caring community that cares about building communities.
    • Cornell–expanding the world's collective knowledge.
    • Cornell's culture encourages individuals who challenge themselves to be the best that they can be.
    • Interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged, practiced, and facilitates research with real–world, global impact.
    • Cornellians are a diverse community of people and ideas who are dedicated to serving the public good and fulfilling Cornell's land–grant mission.

  • What is the message framework?

    The Message Framework consists of words and phrases that you can use to describe Cornell in news and magazine articles, videos, and other university platforms. It includes suggested language for themes that reflect the priorities outlined in the university's Strategic Plan and helps you link each theme to the university's mission, nature, and core values. The Message Framework promotes consistent messaging about important university characteristics across all communications – and makes it easier for you to describe Cornell in all its amazing, dynamic complexity.

    Poster Image
  • How do I apply it?

    The Message Framework is a call to action for anyone who tells stories about Cornell. It doesn't matter whether you are a communications director, dean, department head, faculty member, or administrative assistant. If your goal is to reach any of Cornell's target audiences, the Message Framework will help you shape your communications so they reflect the university's strategic objectives.

    Possible Vehicles

    The following key elements from the brand book most closely relate to this year's theme:
    • audio/video media
    • web media
    • e–media
    • print media
    • mainstream media
    • live events
    • digital signage
    • forums and assemblies
    • tours
    • formal and informal correspondence
    • social networks

    Target Audiences

    • alumni
    • students
    • prospective students
    • parents of current and prospective students
    • faculty
    • staff
    • journalists
    • consumers of mainstream media
    • online audiences
    • audiences at live university events

  • Checklist

    Are you using the dominant theme?

    • • 2010 Student Experience
    • • 2011 Faculty Recruitment
    • • 2012 Places and Spaces
    • • 2013 Land Grant
    • • 2014 Thought Leaders
    • • 2015 Sesquicentennial

    Does your content reflect Cornell's essence – that it is a university that changes the world in ways large and small?